The Holy Spirit!
(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, June 8, 2003, Pentecost Sunday)
I had a strange, frustrating experience yesterday. Sarah, our exchange student from Germany, was scheduled to fly back home along with her mother, Martina, who had been visiting with us for the past three weeks. The flight was scheduled for 7:00 P.M.and we were advised by the airline to arrive at 4:30. We did that. Three days before, we had driven to the airport, triple-checking that everything was a “go” for Sarah’s return home. We were reassured that all the arrangements were solid.
When we arrived at the airport, a man at the ticket counter informed me that while her reservation remained in place, Sarah’s ticket was no longer valid. In order to board the flight, she would have to buy a ticket at the going rate of $2607.00. I tried to explain that on three different occasions, I had been assured by airline personnel that all was set for Sarah’s return. The agent was emphatic. So was I! I asked to speak to the agent’s supervisor. “It won’t do any good,” he told me, “he’s going to tell you the same thing I just told you.” “I want to speak your supervisor anyway,” I said.
The ticket agent turned out to be a prophet. The supervisor politely let me tell the whole story and then informed me that if Sarah were to take the flight in question, her mother would have to cough up $2600.00.
I didn’t give up at that. I called the airline’s 800-number. I called the organization that sponsors exchange students, including representatives in Ohio, San Francisco, and Germany. Ultimately, Martina boarded the flight and Sarah remained behind for a few more days. Try as I might, there had been nowhere I could go for help.
There are times and circumstances that come to us in our lives when we literally don’t know what to say, what to think, what to do, or how to interpret it all. Our Bible lesson records such an incident. As Ann mentioned to me the other day, the events of the first Pentecost are “strange and otherworldly.” You may remember those events. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead on the first Easter and ten days after He ascended to heaven, His closest followers—disciples—were together in a room, praying. In the midst of this quiet gathering, suddenly God’s Holy Spirit came upon the disciples like a violent nor’easter or a freight train barreling down the tracks. The disciples then started telling the thousands of people who were in Jerusalem from foreign places about all of God’s great deeds.
The international crowds in Jerusalem were hard-pressed to understand what was happening. They were as discombobulated and confused by what they were seeing and hearing as I had been by my time at the Cincinnati Airport yesterday. How to explain this? How could they understand simple people from the hick province of Galilee being able to communicate with people from every corner of the planet? Most of the crowd, we’re told, were “amazed and perplexed.” Others though, were sure they understood; they sneeringly dismiss what the disciples are doing and saying. “They’re drunk, filled with new wine.”
The sneering words of the cynics incite an unlikely volunteer to stand up and demand the crowds’ attention. Just fifty-three days earlier, the Galileean fisherman Peter had gutlessly denied even knowing Jesus. Now, even after he had seen how murderously the religious and political elites had gone after Jesus, Peter—who had seen the risen Jesus—clears his throat and tells the crowd, “These people aren’t drunk.” Instead, Peter says, the crowds were witnessing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He reminds the crowd that God had promised that one day He would pour His Spirit upon believing people and that through their words and actions, the world would see God’s glory and goodness.
On that Pentecost, the disciples were telling about all of the great things God had done through the centuries, most importantly the new life God offers to all with faith in Jesus Christ. But the punchline comes at the end of our Bible lesson for this morning. It’s the place where Peter says:
“Then everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.”
I might not know who I can call to fix a confusing situation at the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. But I do know who to call in order for my everlasting life to be saved. And so do you. We call out to the One Who gives life, the One Who gives new lives to sinners like you and me who are willing to turn from sin. We call the One Who became human and died and rose for us. We call out to the Lord we know through Jesus Christ.
Every week, I receive between two and five telephone calls from people with essentially the same request. They say, “I was wondering if you provide any help with rent money?” (Or utilities, or gas money, or whatever.) There are times when this congregation has provided financial help for people in need and we no doubt will do it in the future. But that’s not what the Church is essentially about. The events of the first Pentecost show us what the Church really is about.
We see what the Church is about first of all, in the very opening of our lesson. There, we’re told, “When the day of Pentecost has come, they [the disciples] were all together in one place.” They were praying. And what is prayer anyway? Prayer happens when people call out to God.
One of my favorite books was written by the Norwegian Lutheran theologian Ole Hallesby. It’s called Prayer. There, Hallesby says that there are two essential ingredients in genuine prayer. The first is faith. That makes sense. We have to believe that the One to Whom we pray is there and that He can be trusted.
The second ingredient in genuine prayer is more difficult though. It’s desperation. For true prayer to happen, we must realize that our only hope is God. So often, the words we jabber and call prayer lack desperation. We can be entirely too self-confident. We ask God to bless something that we’ve already decided to do. Or, we ask God to legitimize something we’ve already done. Or, we ask God to be a back-up insurance policy for something we’re sure we can do without His help anyway.
But when we’re really praying, we ask God for things that we know can only happen if He intervenes. Real calling out to God—real prayer—is brought by the person who recognizes the truth of the Old Testament passage that says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builder builds in vain.” Desperation is essential to our praying.
The early Church had reason for desperately calling out to God for help. They were terrified! No matter how reassuring Jesus’ resurrection was for them (or is for us), those disciples still had to live in a hostile, hateful, difficult world. The fact is that you and I live in a tough world, too. We need God’s help. We need to call out to God.
After the disciples called out to God for help, He sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit brings comfort, hope, and power to followers of Jesus. He can still do that for you and me today. So many times in my own life when I have felt down or defeated, I have found God comforting me with hope for no accountable reason. And after I have prayed, I have often seen God change supposedly defeating circumstances in unaccountable ways.
The Church, first of all, is that community of believers who call out to God.
The Church is also that community that helps others call out to God. One of the most hated words around—and one of my favorites—is the word evangelism. This word, rooted in the Greek, really means good newsing. Evangelism is telling others the Good News of Jesus, telling people that God so loved the whole human race that even after it had fallen into sin and rebelled against God, earning a death sentence, God still sent His Son Jesus so that all who will turn from sin and follow Him will live forever with God. As we told our Catechism students this past Saturday, each of us are to be commercials for Christ, helping others to know that they too, can call on the Lord and live.
Our call as Jesus-followers is precisely the same as the call given to the disciples on the first Pentecost: we’re to let others know about the mighty, loving God we know through Jesus Christ and that they too can call out to Him and be saved from sin and death!
The truth of the matter is that no matter how desperate we may feel in our lives, there is always somewhere we can go. All believers in Jesus can call the Lord and He will hear and He will always care. That’s the promise of Pentecost. That’s the promise of Jesus. And it’s a promise that belongs to all who dare to believe in Jesus.